The President last night signed the FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (HR 6201), which the House introduced and passed 363-40-1 on March 13 and the Senate passed 90-8 yesterday. This is a good first step to help Americans, business owners and workers alike, who are coping with the threats to their physical and economic health from this coronavirus pandemic.
Here is a quick summary of major provisions of HR 6201:
Emergency Sick Leave
EMPLOYEES in companies with fewer than 500 workers entitled to leave related to coronavirus, beginning 15 days after bill enacted. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can seek exemption. Full-time employees eligible up to 80 hours of sick leave, while part-time employees entitled to leave up to the average hours worked in two-week period. Leave for personal illness is covered at full regular wage up to $511 per day. Leave to care for a family member or to care for a child whose school or day care is impacted due to the virus is covered at 2/3 pay up to $200 per day. This provision is in addition to an employer’s existing policies, which may not be changed.
EMPLOYERS qualify for a refundable tax credit against the payroll tax for wages under this provision up to the caps for full-time or part time employees. Self-employed individuals can qualify for a tax credit equal to 100% of a “sick leave equivalent amount” for personal illness or 67% for the family care provisions.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
EMPLOYEES in companies with fewer than 500 workers entitled to up to 12 weeks of emergency leave related to coronavirus under the amended federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Covers full-time and part-time workers (employed for at least 30 days). Businesses with fewer than 50 employees may seek an exemption. Workers must be unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave to care for a son or daughter under 18 years of age if the school or place of care has been closed or child care provider is unavailable, due to a coronavirus-related public health emergency related to coronavirus. First 10 days may consist of unpaid leave, although employee may substitute other accrued leave. Leave under this provision paid at 2/3 of regular pay based on usual work schedule up to $200 per day or $10,000 overall. Employees are entitled to return to their job or equivalent position, although companies with 25 or fewer employees may seek a waiver from job protection provision. Health workers may also be excluded from the public health emergency leave.
EMPLOYEERS generally qualify for a refundable tax credit for wages paid up to $200 per day or a total of $10,000. Wages paid by the emergency paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave expansion provisions of this bill are not considered wages for employer taxation purposes under section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Self-employed individuals may also be eligible for tax relief.
Enhanced Unemployment Insurance
Emergency Transfers: $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states for processing and paying unemployment insurance (UI) benefits.
Temporary Assistance for States with Advances: access to interest-free loans for states to help pay regular UI benefits through December 31, 2020.
Technical Assistance: Labor Secretary of Labor provides to states to assist employers set up work sharing to avoid layoffs by reducing hours and allowing employees partial UI benefits to offset wage losses.
Extended Unemployment Compensation: Provides 100 percent federal reimbursement to states with increase of at least 10 percent in unemployment rate (over the previous year). Extended Benefits triggered by high unemployment provide up to 26 weeks additional weeks when regular UI benefits (usually 26 weeks) exhausted.
Strengthened food security initiatives: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), student meals, seniors nutrition and food banks.
Now Congress and the Administration are considering further steps to meet this crisis, including an economic stimulus package, and expanded federal personal and family leave included in a new bill developed by Senator Patty Murray, (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health and Labor Committee; Representative Rosa DeLaura (D-CT), Chairwoman of the House Labor Appropriations Subcommittee; and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senate lead on the FAMILY Act.
This bill is an extension of the FAMILY Act, for which ASBC has long advocated. Unfortunately, this coronavirus crisis is a terrible demonstration of that need. When all employees have time to heal and time to care for sick family members, productivity increases, profits rise, our economy grows and our nation becomes stronger. To make this happen, workers need to have access to paid leave so they have support while dealing with personal or family health issues, and a job to come back to once the issues have been resolved.
Every health expert recommends that taking broad action quickly will help minimize the spread of this virus and other health threats. That can only benefit businesses, communities, and the economy as a whole. Yet, nationally, over 1 ITin 4 private sector employees lack access to earned sick days, and 60 percent of workers lack employer provided personal medical leave for a longer illness.
Join ASBC in thanking Congress and the President for taking the first step with FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (HR 6201), but urge them to take more comprehensive action by supporting measures like the PAID Leave Act.
Thomas Oppel Executive Vice President American Sustainable Business Council